Dear TV Writers: Your Fear of the Moonlighting Curse is Killing Your Show

What is the Moonlighting Curse, and why is it such a big deal to television writers? Read this in-depth look at the crippling phenomenon and find out!

Getting Rid of the Stigma: Mental Illness in Young Adult Fiction, by Megan Mann

In this piece, Megan brilliantly discusses the stigma of mental illness in literature and how some young adult novels are helping to change the landscape for this discussion.

In Appreciation of the Everyday Heroine

A mask does not a hero make. In this piece, I discuss why it's wrong to dismiss characters without costumes or masks as superheroes.

Friday, January 31, 2014

5x06 "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking" (The Labyrinth of the Bulletin Board)


"Analysis of Cork-Based Networking"
Original Airdate: January 30, 2014

I’m a go-getter and a doer. I’m the kind of person you either love or hate during group projects because I’ll correct your work if it’s not up to my standards, and I’ll probably take over most of the assignment myself. It’s not great that I’m like this sometimes, but it’s a facet of my personality that isn’t easy to turn on and off. What I’ve learned over the years, however, is that sometimes the best parts of you can also be the worst parts. Your optimism can turn into naiveté. Your driven nature can become overbearing. Your passiveness can turn into laziness. What I’ve always noticed about Community is that it pinpoints these elements in its characterization of the study group members. Jeff’s ego is good because it often drives him to become motivated. But his ego is also tied to his vanity, which is destructive to both himself and the people around him. Annie’s always been driven. It’s something that will always be true. We need people like Annie or the ice melts and projects go unfinished. But we’ve seen what happens when Annie allows her ambition to run ahead of her better judgment. She tends to become obsessed with ideas and visions, blinding herself to her own conscience. (We’ve seen this happen many times, notably in “Intro to Political Science,” “Basic Lupine Urology,” “Geography of Global Conflict,” and “Intro to Felt Surrogacy.”)

Annie’s drive and determination is something to be admired, but not when she becomes all-consumed with one goal that she loses sight of many others along the way and ignores warning signs. Usually Jeff is the one to teach Annie these lessons. He’s often the person to talk her away from the ledge, to remind her of what’s truly important. But he’s a bit preoccupied in “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking,” so Buzz Hickey is the one to teach Annie this truth, though not without her teaching one to him as well. But before we dive into that particular story, grab your handy-dandy bulletin board because you may want to tack up some notes.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Top 10 Reasons I'll Miss Chris Traeger (As Told Through GIFs)


What makes Chris Traeger such a delightful character? Is it his optimism in the face of just about every obstacle you can imagine? Is it his tendency to occasionally become self-deprecating? Is it his relationship with Ben Wyatt? Is it his use of the word “literally”? Is it his love for his colleagues and endless care for them? Is it his obsession with healthy food and leafy greens? His devotion to exercise? Or is it the way that he simply exists, bouncing from person to person and job to job, interacting and somehow making Parks and Recreation a wittier, more entertaining series?

(Spoiler alert: It’s all of these things and more.) 

I’m going to miss Rob Lowe as the handsome, energetic, happy Chris Traeger and thought I’d count down ten of the reasons I’ll miss him most of all. So grab a healthy smoothie and maybe do some crunches while you read, because we’re counting them down… now!

Top 10 Reasons I'll Miss Ann Perkins (As Told Through GIFs)


I’m still not entirely convinced that my beautiful tropical fish, Ann Perkins, is leaving Parks and Recreation this Thursday. But since it’s actually happening (*cries*), I thought I would put together a little going-away package for our favorite Pawnee nurse/expectant mother. I love Parks and Rec and I have always loved Ann as a character. She’s sweet and naïve sometimes, but she’s also witty and snarky. She’s Leslie Knope’s better half (she shares the title with Ben) and has always been there for her best friend, though she hasn’t always done the right thing. Out of all of the characters on the series, I’ve related to Ann the most. She’s had a crazy love life, has been unsure of what she’s doing, but has always had a best friend beside her to pull her through the insanity. She’s been a shoulder to lean on, to cry on, and a ray of sunshine in Pawnee.

As she and Chris depart, let’s relive some of the reasons I’ll miss them most, as expressed through GIFs! (You can find Chris’ post here.) So long, farewell, my cunning, pliable, chestnut-haired sunfish. I will always love you.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The British Are Coming! (Reviewing BBC's 'Sherlock,' 'Death Comes to Pemberley,' and 'Doctor Who')


I’ve only been to London once on a layover to Italy. And though it was dreary and cold, and though I had been on a plane overnight, was both jetlagged and probably smelled, I loved every minute of the bit of the city that I got to experience. I’m an English nerd – I love literary history and everything that entails. So it’s still a dream of mine, someday, to return to London. But until that time comes, I’ll pretend that I am cultured by watching as much BBC/BBC America as I can. 

And watch I do. So much so that I decided to compile a post of three BBC series that have infiltrated my life: the influential, addicting sci-fi series Doctor Who, the intense and captivating Sherlock, and the mini-series based on Jane Austen’s beloved characters, Death Comes to Pemberley. So I thought that I would take the opportunity to reflect on each of these, now that they have ended their seasons/series and encourage you all – if you aren’t – to watch. There are still other BBC dramas I have yet to watch but desperately need to (looking at you, Orphan Black) as well and I look forward to enriching my life with more beautiful British people soon.

Grab your jammie dodgers, a cuppa, and practice your best British accent because we’re going to talk about three delightful series starting… now!

Jenn's Pick: Top 10 Episodes of "Parks and Recreation"


Sometimes, peer pressure is a good thing. It is because of peer pressure – because of everyone talking about and flailing over and quoting the series – that I started marathoning Parks and Recreation. I had seen some episodes, of course, because the show is on directly after Community, but I usually only half-watched at best. I decided that until I could give my full attention to the show, I would hold off on a marathon. So when I began the series, I already anticipated enjoying it. I didn’t expect that I would love it as much as I do, nor that I would find it to be one of the most positive, cohesive, astounding little comedies ever.

Parks and Recreation recently celebrated their 100th episode, which is an amazing feat in and of itself. In honor of their 100th episode, I decided that I would count down ten of my absolute favorite Parks episodes of all time. As I compiled my list, I found it to be quite difficult. Reading through the episode names and descriptions, I was constantly struck with “oh but I LOVED this episode” or “but this one had THAT scene in it,” making my narrowing to ten a troublesome feat. After much inward debate (and a smidge of cheating on my part), I managed to compile my list.

So grab your waffles and your Li’l Sebastian plushy, because we’re about to count down my favorite Parks and Recreation episodes!

Friday, January 24, 2014

5x05 "Geothermal Escapism" (The End of an Era)


"Geothermal Escapism"
Original Airdate: January 23, 2014

When I was a kid, I moved around a few times. I remember, quite vividly, being an elementary school student and sitting in my class on the last day I would be there. Right before my mom picked me up, my teacher and the rest of my elementary school class gathered around my desk and handed me a present. It was a book – Where the Sidewalk Ends – and every member of the class, including my teacher, had signed it and wrote me a sweet note. It made me cry when I was handed it.

I just moved this summer and I still have that signed book in my library.

The fact of the matter is that moving is hard when you have roots somewhere. My biggest move was from Pennsylvania to Florida when I was thirteen. I hated everything about my parents’ decision to uproot us. I resented them. I was leaving my friends and the only home I had ever known up north. I thought I would never adjust. Looking back on it, I remember we moved down to Florida in September. In October, I was still instant messaging with my friends up north, sitting at home while I should have been trick-or-treating with people in my neighborhood. I tried desperately to cling to the last bit of normalcy I knew. I had said goodbye, but I hadn’t REALLY said goodbye and until I did, I couldn’t really come to terms with moving on.

I hate saying goodbye, but that’s what “Geothermal Escapism” urged us to do. It thrust us back into the crazy world of Greendale, where seemingly insignificant games acquire massive stakes within seconds and the games always somehow manage to teach you about yourself and life. Troy is preparing to leave Greendale, but Abed wants to spend the day sending him off in style. Namely, he wants the group to participate in one, huge game of “Hot Lava” with the entire school. It’s all fun and games until Abed reveals that the prize is a comic book valued at $50,000. Then, Greendale descends into madness quicker than you can say The Heart of Darkness. Britta, meanwhile, is insistent that Abed’s game and the group’s cheerful going-away party are just ways to deny the fact that Troy is really leaving. She needs to not just play therapist in this episode – she needs to play REALIST and remind everyone that they need to grieve the loss of their friend from the group just like they grieved Pierce.

I spent the majority of the episode believing Britta to be right: that Abed was really playing the game so that he wouldn’t have to face reality, as he’s done so many times before (remember “Contemporary Impressionists”? Or “Virtual Systems Analysis”?), but I was wrong. And Britta was, too. But that revelation will be explained and elaborated on once I’ve recapped the rest of the episode.

So hop up onto the desks and tables and chairs (you might want to bring your laptop or phone to finish this review) and head beneath the cut because the floor is lava!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Girl 3x13 "Birthday" (You Are Who Loves You)


"Birthday"
Original Airdate: January 21, 2014

At this moment, it is exactly four days until my 25th birthday. So, naturally, I struggled over what to do for this occasion. I haven’t really been into throwing birthday parties since before I turned 21, but 25 is too momentous of an occasion to forgo celebration altogether. Since my birthday is on a Sunday, I decided that I would spend the weekend celebrating with the people I love – Friday night would be devoted to a girls’ fancy birthday dinner at an Italian restaurant; Saturday would be brunch and the farmer’s market with my roommate; and Sunday would be spent with my family, enjoying a home-cooked meal.

(I’m Italian, if you couldn’t tell by the fact that all of those celebrations revolve around food.)

I’m a natural-born planner, an annoyingly type-A personality, but I’ve never had high expectations when it comes to birthday celebrations. I’ve never desired a surprise party; I haven’t ever expected my friends or relatives to plot some elaborate spectacle. Even when I was dating, I didn’t expect my boyfriend to do much more than take me to a nice dinner and spend time with me. I’m a lot different from Jessica Day, I suppose, in that regard. “Birthday” is a pretty obvious title: New Girl’s most recent episode centers around the woman’s birthday and Nick’s seeming lack of planning anything for her. We know, of course, that he does have something special planned and the rest of the group is helping him. But Jess is out of the loop, and it actually shines a light on her as a character as a result.

You see, Jess has high expectations for people in her life and people in general. She doesn’t just see people for who they are. No, she sees them for who she believes they can become. Jess admits to setting the standards high, which leads to her disappointment quite often. That’s why, at the beginning of the episode, she tells Cece and Rose that she spends every year by herself at the movies on her birthday. She always expects too much from people and – inevitably – they let her down. So she decides that it’s best if she doesn’t give them the opportunity to. The opening scene reminded me a lot of one from Ben and Kate (the show is smiling down on us from TV Heaven), where Ben laments Kate having to spend every birthday alone at her favorite diner. Kate, bless her, says that she was never really alone and it’s revealed to the audience that Maddie was always with her during every birthday she celebrated. It was a sweet, touching sentiment and one that I couldn’t help but think of as Jess explained how she attends movies alone on her birthday as well.

Jess, of course, is never truly alone either. But she doesn’t realize that quite yet. So before we discuss the fact that I cried for the last few minutes of “Birthday,” let’s recap the plot, shall we?

Friday, January 17, 2014

5x04 "Cooperative Polygraphy" (The Lying Game)


"Cooperative Polygraphy"
Original Airdate: January 16, 2014

My friends and I sat around on Tuesday night and discussed our lives, and then the conversation turned more personal. They’re a close group of friends so we had an intense heart-to-heart about how much we lie to ourselves and others on a daily basis. As the room grew silent, we began to ponder exactly when the last time we lied was and what that lie was about. Moreover, we began debating what constituted a lie – if we chose a major to appease our parents and were now stuck in a job we never really were passionate about to begin with, did that constitute a lie? What we found was this: more often than not, our lies are white lies or lies of omission. We lie to our bosses, feigning excitement or interest or else pretending that we can handle ONE more project when really we’re five minutes away from a nervous breakdown. Our lies of omission come in the form of half-true text messages. We tell our friends that we have “plans,” when those plans really include take-out food, sweatpants, and Netflix. And it seems that we can’t quite avoid telling these tiny, little lies. It makes us human and it makes the study group in Community’s latest bottle episode “Cooperative Polygraphy” human, too.

The study group has been together for five years now, which would make you think that they probably know every annoying tick, every dirty secret, and nearly everything about each other. But when I think about my own friendships, even those that I have had for eleven years, I realize that I don’t know everything about the people I’m closest to. There are still secrets that people keep buried because of shame or guilt or laziness and though those often bubble to the surface after years of friendship, sometimes they merely simmer. Unless, of course, you’re in the episode “Cooperative Polygraphy.” With Pierce’s recent passing, the study group has been instructed that they each are being investigated for the potential murder of Pierce Hawthorne. Pierce wasn’t murdered, of course, but that doesn’t stop him from hiring Mr. Stone to hook each member of the group up to a polygraph. If the study group members pass the test, they are bequeathed a part of Pierce’s million dollar estate.

(Understandably, the study group decides to go through with the test.)

What ensues, of course, is not only chaotic but also painful, like every good bottle episode. When I reviewed “Cooperative Calligraphy,” this is what I said regarding bottle episodes like Community’s and Friends’:

What is beneficial and integral in bottle episodes is the escalation of emotions between characters. When characters such as the study group or the friends from Central Perk are unconfined, they are a lot less likely to confront each other about things that they have personally buried. See, the benefit of life is that we are usually free to walk away from people who irritate us and to escape situations where we just barely are able to control our tongues. But bottle episodes are not the case. These episodes force characters into a room or an apartment. The confined space and the emotional stability of the characters seem to crumble (as seen by the dissolving of the study group in Community and the escalation of Ross’ anger and the Joey/Chandler fight in Friends). 
So is the point of a bottle episode then merely to watch characters slowly turn into Lord of the Flies? To watch as a group of people dissolves slowly into chaos and madness until they blow up at each other? No, though tension is an important part of the bottle episode format, it’s not necessarily the point of it. What the study group learns and what our friends from Friends learn is pretty simple – they need each other, regardless of if they’re searching for a purple pen or trying to get ready for an important event.

The point of a bottle episode is to escalate tension, but behind that tension is a purpose: to, as I said above, expose the most vulnerable, agitated, weak sides of their character and yet ensure that they still learn from and love each other. The study group reveals a LOT to one another in the episode, whether begrudgingly or accidentally and it pushes them apart for a while before Jeff tries (feebly) to tie the threads of purpose together. But before we understand exactly why it is important for the study group to air their dirty laundry and WHY Pierce wanted them to do so before he hit them with an emotional, forceful blow, let’s discuss the plot of the episode, shall we?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Girl 3x12 "Basketsball" (You've Got a Friend in Me)


"Basketsball"
Original Airdate: January 14, 2014

Every Sunday morning, I teach fourth and fifth grade students at my church. They’re all quite adorable, but tend to become problematic when they lose focus (which happens a lot) and distract their friends (which happens a lot). One Sunday morning, I was playing Jenga with this little girl named Hailey who is a self-proclaimed tomboy. She hates anything girly or frilly and was complaining to me about how her mother was going to make her wear a dress and go to the symphony in a few weeks. Soon, another little girl – fresh from being dropped off by her parents – asked Hailey if she could play Jenga with her. The little girl agreed and then, out of the blue, the newcomer asked: “Do you like dragons?” Hailey’s eyes lit up and she excitedly said: “Yes! I love dragons!” And the two girls were inseparable for the remainder of the morning.

As I walked away from their exchange, I was struck with the notion that making friends as a child is as simple as asking someone if they like dragons. Boom! Friendship immediately forged. It delighted me that those two little girls didn’t bring their own baggage or expectations into a friendship. Their connection was so simple and, moreover, it was EASY. I thought a lot about friendships later that afternoon and how different it is when you make friends as adults. We don’t bring that same innocence and energy into our relationships. It’s a lot more difficult to befriend someone as an adult than it is to make friendships on the schoolyard.

“Basketsball” is an episode that is primarily dedicated to the idea that sometimes it IS really difficult to forge a friendship, especially if they only see you as their friend’s girlfriend. In our New Girl episode this week, we found out that Jess was struggling to make a connection with Coach, even though he moved into the loft months ago. Jess wants people to like her and I loved that “Basketsball” was a return to season one Jess (rightfully so, as it focuses on the fact that Jess wormed her way into friendships with Nick, Schmidt, and Winston as well over the years), who is well-meaning and endearing and slightly awkward. I love that the series has learned that it doesn’t have to lean on these qualities too hard, but that they’re also inseparable from Jess as an individual and often manifest themselves whenever she’s feeling particularly insecure. Nick and Jess spend the episode at odds in the actual best way possible, while Jess forges a fake bond with Coach over his favorite basketball team, the Detroit Pistons.

Elsewhere in the episode, Schmidt has been recruited to train a new (elderly) hire at work, and Winston shadows his friend in an attempt to decide what he wants his new career path to be. (Cece, meanwhile, is manning the bar in Nick’s absence which provides us with some non-awkward Schmidt/Cece scenes and some adorable Winston/Cece ones. I’m quite enjoying the way they’re choosing to integrate Cece into more central storylines with other members of the loft. It’s a nice way for the New Girl writers to ensure she’s a part of the ensemble, rather than an outlying piece of it.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

5x03 "Basic Intergluteal Numismatics" (The Game Continues to Be Afoot)


"Basic Intergluteal Numismatics"
Original Airdate: January 9, 2014

Community is a show that takes a lot of risks. It’s a series that at any given moment can be a Western or a zombie movie or an action parody. It’s unafraid to be bold and brash and weird and wonderful. And that’s why it has always been endearing to me. It’s this unflinching where other series would flee that has made Community what it is – made it have a cult-like following of individuals who are willing to try everything and anything to save their beloved show. There is, however, one particular element that this series has never quite mastered: romance. Where series like New Girl and Parks and Recreation and The Office (and even recently The Crazy Ones) seem to excel in this department (or at least try their hand), Community often slides into something much worse than failure. They simply fall onto this trajectory of doing nothing at all.

I love Jeff and Annie as a pairing and I have loved the idea of them since “Football, Feminism and You.” And though I truly did love “Basic Intergluteal Nuministics” and (most of) their dynamic throughout… well, flirtation and romantic games have expiration dates and I’m fearing that the writers are attempting to draw out Jeff and Annie’s for as long as humanly possible. When Liz Meriwether was interviewed after “Cooler,” she said this when asked why she chose to have Nick and Jess finally kiss and it has always truly stuck with me and made her stand out as a showrunner:

It just felt right. I mean we’ve sort of gotten to a place where it felt like organically in their relationship something like this could happen. I mean, we spent the season watching them get closer and closer as friends and then, the original draft of “Cooler” didn’t have them kissing and then we, you know, it was a really good script and we went to table as a draft of the script without them kissing and then we just all sort of looked at each other and felt like it sort of felt right. It also felt like if we didn’t have them kiss, it was kind of like pulling our punches; like we were not really being true to the characters in this moment.

New Girl had spent its first season and first half of the second season exploring the possibility of a Nick and Jess romance. The idea first percolated in “Cece Crashes” and continued to be explored throughout episodes like “Injured” and “See Ya,” finally culminating in the second season episode “Fluffer” where Nick and Jess confronted their chemistry. The New Girl writers and Liz knew one thing: if they were to be true to who they knew these characters to be, eventually they would HAVE to address those feelings and either move on or grow together. So they took a risk with “Cooler” and haven’t looked back since. It would have been easy for the team to try and keep their audience guessing for another year – to write moments of tension and romantic chemistry that ultimately amounted to nothing. But that, they knew, would be detrimental to their characters and would alienate part of their fanbase. They knew that even if they failed, they had to TRY to write Nick and Jess in a romantic light in order to be true to the characters. Because after two years of living together and chemistry simmering and long looks and stolen glances, I think Liz and her team knew that Nick and Jess WOULD have had no choice but to do something about that chemistry.

I have to hand it to the Jeff and Annie shippers: they’re a devoted bunch (I, of course, being one of them) and they’re resilient. Even in the worst of circumstances (“Anthropology 101”), this section of the fandom manages to keep their faith in the couple alive. And I believe that the Community writers are aware that their fandom is split into these factions of shippers. I KNOW they are aware of this. And to appease Jeff/Annie fans, they continue to write scenes and episodes tinged with romantic chemistry because Joel McHale and Alison Brie work so well together. “Basic Intergluteal Nuministics” dances around the “Jeff and Annie of it all” without giving us much progression but also without demeaning Annie as a naïve schoolgirl or OVERLY emphasizing the age difference/creepy factor of their relationship (the word “creepy” is mentioned which irks me, but I’m sure I’ll rant about that momentarily). Additionally, while it doesn’t seek to resolve their chemistry or make any firm decision regarding their relationship, it DOES provide evidence of growth and some great parallelism between both “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” and “Basic Lupine Urology.” I have to commend Erik Sommers on his work, because while those above paragraphs may give the indication that I did not care for the episode, I quite enjoyed it. I enjoy when Jeff and Annie go on adventures together and solve cases. But – and here is the BIG but – I will discuss below while this ultimately is unsatisfying to me not as a shipper but as a lover of character growth and development. The Community writers are NEARLY there, but they’re still hesitant when it comes to completely committing to or developing the show’s romantic element. And whether you ship Jeff/Annie or Duncan/Britta or Troy/Abed for all I know, this unsatisfaction, this not-quite-there element WILL leave a tiny, gerbil-sized void in the series as a whole.

But before we delve too deeply into what was, this week, essentially the Jeff and Annie Show, let’s backtrack and discuss the plot of the episode, shall we?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Girl 3x11 "Clavado En Un Bar" (How Do You Know When You're On the Right Path?)


"Clavado En Un Bar"
Original Airdate: January 7, 2014

On Tuesday night, I sat around with my twenty-something friends and we all discussed how we are each unhappy with our current job situations or our situation in life. It’s funny: when you’re a kid, you make up all sorts of things you will grow up to be. You think you’ll be a flight attendant or a doctor or a veterinarian. But the truth is that adults never tell you that you’ll likely have dozens of jobs as you grow – you’ll grow from earning a few dollars an hour as a babysitter to a retail or restaurant job, cashiering or bussing tables. And then you’ll go to college. You’ll probably work odd jobs making whatever money you can, tutoring or keeping that retail or restaurant job to pay for your insanely expensive textbooks and macaroni and cheese dinners. And then, if you’re very fortunate, when you graduate from college you’ll likely slip into a “bottom rung of the ladder” job. You’ll stay there for a few years and that’s where the story of me and my friends picks up. You see, we each have had our jobs for about two or two and a half years and now we’re in our mid-twenties and suddenly we’re struck with this growing desire to leave our jobs and find something else, something better. We want to stop going through the motions of our 9-to-5 and find something that we are passionate about. We want to get paid to do THAT, not to sit at a desk for the entire duration of the morning and afternoon and sink into some sort of bottomless spiral of blandness.

We all are at the point in our lives in which we are ready to switch our jobs. Ironically enough, this is where we meet Jess Day in “Clavado En Un Bar,” the first New Girl episode back from hiatus. We soon learn that she’s been volunteering at a children’s museum in her spare time and was just offered a job by her friend to work for their fundraising department. But in order to accept the job at the museum, Jess would have to give up her teaching position and that is where she begins to struggle. What does she WANT in life? And are her wants dictated by her circumstances or are they independent of them? Jess’ school situation is a lot less than ideal, as we come to realize, seemingly making her potential decision to leave an easier one. And so, “Clavado En Un Bar” finds all of the characters in the loft (and Schmidt and, later on, Cece) relaying the stories of how they obtained the job that they have now, and each person gives Jess a piece of advice regarding her impending decision. Because oh… did I mention? Jess has about 21 minutes to make her choice (what a great use of the actual running time of the show. And though it’s not TECHNICALLY a bottle episode, it’s essentially a bottle episode for the characters, which makes it amazing).

This episode is comparable to “Virgins” in terms of storytelling and what I loved so much about that episode was how much it illuminated these characters’ wants, motives, and histories and wove them together in order to give us as audience members a better understanding of who Nick, Jess, Schmidt, Winston, and Cece (and now Coach, too) were and – more importantly – WHY they were that way. Berkley Johnson did a tremendous job with “Clavado En Un Bar” which is one of my favorite episodes from this season because of how integral and touching it is with regards to everyone’s character development (especially Nick). But before I discuss how exceptional the writing in the episode, the jokes, and the return of Fat Schmidt were, let’s discuss the plot, shall we?

As Nick, Winston, and Schmidt settle in for a scotch tasting at the bar and vow to have a relaxing evening, Jess bursts in, downs their drinks, and then informs them all that she has exactly twenty-one minutes to make a decision that could alter the rest of her life. (The guys are understandably baffled by the news and her behavior.) As Jess begins to explain to Schmidt and Winston that she’s become friendly with the head curator at the children’s museum where she volunteers and has been not-so-subtly been told that she should work there full-time, Nick excuses himself to go deal with a patron. I say “deal with” and it sounds harsh, so let me rephrase: Nick excuses himself to go take care of a patron. The element of this episode that I loved most of all was getting the opportunity to see Nick Miller in an entirely new light. I already loved and adored him as the grumpy and curmudgeonly bartender, but just as Jess starts to see Nick as someone passionate and kind, not unmotivated or a failure, I do too. You see, Nick really loves his job at the bar. I mean, he complains about it and it is agitating at times, but he genuinely loves what he does. And I think that’s inspiring, really, because as my friends revealed last night, most of them actually don’t hate their jobs. They’re not where they want to be in life necessarily, but they don’t hate what they do. Nick doesn’t hate bartending; in fact, he genuinely loves it. And I think we’ve always come to presume that bartending is an easy, mindless job with little to no payoff or actual benefit to it. Schmidt and Winston and nearly every character on the series has demeaned Nick and, consequently, his job. But when Nick excuses himself from Jess’ conversation, it’s to prevent an elderly drunk patron from driving home. Nick apparently plays a “hide the car keys” game with him so often that he’s named it as such. And you know… this was actually the first moment in the episode I began to feel more tenderness toward Nick’s profession than I think I ever had before. He’s making a difference as a bartender and he’s actually looking out for the well-being of others. He CARES and it shows. That’s pretty wonderful.

A few feet away, Jess is discussing her horrible school situation with the guys (apparently other teachers and their students are being shoved into her classroom, likely for months) and then notes that Candace, the museum curator, officially offered her the job and wants an answer that night. The guys are attempting to wrap their minds around the idea of Jess not being a schoolteacher and are finding it difficult. And see, that is one of the things I loved about this episode and that I have enjoyed about the arc with Jess’ job: we see her the way that we see ourselves, trying to define ourselves by the career that we have. Jess is a teacher – she thinks of herself as only a teacher and it’s difficult for her to imagine who she would be if she was separated from that. Because remember that she WAS separated from that image (“Relaunch”) and she struggled deeply. What “Clavado En Un Bar” allows us and Jess to realize though is that she was a teacher long before she ever had her first real classroom, and this means that Jess isn’t defined by her profession. Quite contrary: Jess’ personality just so happens to be her profession.

So she asks Winston, Nick, Coach, and Schmidt a question: “How do you know when you’re on the right path?” The guys contemplate rather silently until Jess notes that her question wasn’t rhetorical. Winston is the first to tell the story of how he obtained his current job (because he is a professional career path-changer), but not before Nick tries to give Jess a motivational speech about choosing the right career path. The other men groan at Nick and Schmidt notes that Nick’s job could essentially be performed by a vending machine. Knowing what the audience knows at the end of the episode, rewatching this scene (and any scene in which someone pokes fun of Nick’s job or lack of motivation) is quite sad because Nick is genuinely attempting to give his girlfriend some heartfelt advice. Everyone dismisses Nick though, including Jess, and Winston discusses how he chose to leave his basketball career behind him.

(As an aside, I love when characters in New Girl tell stories because – just like real life – the other characters interject throughout.)

So Winston discusses his basketball career, informing Jess that he was a benched player who was barely allowed to practice, but that he still didn’t quit. In fact, the coach encouraged Winston to join the outdoor Latvian basketball league which… practiced on a hill. It was there that Winston, unable to stop himself from racing down the side of the hill, hurt his ankle and was told by the doctor that he would never play basketball again. Each person who shares a story with Jess leaves her with a piece of advice that was influenced by their own story. Winston’s advice? “Walk away the moment you stop loving [your job].”

The problem, of course, that Winston then realizes is that he… well, he never actually MADE a decision to change his career. The decision was essentially made for him. (Which is another sub-category of changing career paths, really.) What I truly loved was the brilliant, if unintentional, parallelism between Winston in “Virgins” and this episode: after he reveals his stories in both episodes, he begins to question everything he knows about himself, his life, and the important moments within them. It’s played for laughs, obviously, because it’s quite funny to see Winston try and defend his version of reality to the group, but it’s also kind of sad because… well, Winston never gets to have a win. He’s like the Charlie Brown of New Girl.

As Winston questions everything he knows about life, Nick takes the opportunity to attempt, once again, to give his girlfriend solid advice. But Winston’s sad story propels Schmidt to relay his own, and I’ll be honest: I presumed that Schmidt’s revelation about his career decisions would begin and end exactly like Barney Stinson’s did in How I Met Your Mother’s “Game Night.” (I’m glad that it didn’t, for the record.) Schmidt’s characterization this season has been a point of contention among the fandom but “Clavado En Un Bar” was a natural return to Schmidt’s inherent (but well-intentioned) douchey behavior. Gone was the awkward and depressed cloud that seemed to loom above his head throughout the first half of the season and back was the lightheartedness that we have come to associate with Schmidt. I do believe that the writers did a great job in villainizing Schmidt without assassinating his character in the process. I will say though that I am quite pleased with how well this episode developed Schmidt, in addition to Nick. Though each character attempts to give Jess advice in making a decision, all of the other characters (save for Coach) make decisions themselves by the episode’s end.

Schmidt’s career path began as a volunteer candy striper, where he had a crush on one of the nurses. And when the good-looking and well-dressed boyfriend of aforementioned nurse kissed his girlfriend goodbye, wearing a fancy suit, Schmidt wondered aloud where someone had to volunteer to land a girl like that. The man informed him that it wasn’t about volunteering: it was about being a man and working in marketing. (And to be honest, I presumed that we would then see Schmidt a la Barney lose weight and become a marketing executive.) Instead, Schmidt notes that he couldn’t get a job in marketing, so he worked at a Christmas tree lot and became quite skilled at selling Christmas trees to other people. Eventually, his knack for selling trees earned him the attention of an old, wealthy man who then had a heart attack on the Christmas tree lot. When Schmidt visits him in the hospital on his death bed, the elderly man tells Schmidt that money – above everything else – is the most important thing. And thus, Schmidt was spurred on to become the Schmidt we see in the present.

Jess isn’t entirely sold on the message of the story, and Schmidt drops his own nugget of truth from the tale on her once she reveals that the museum job pays more than her teaching position: “Follow them duckets.” (Winston, wisely, tells the man that it isn’t always about money.) Jess is beginning to grow frustrated as it gets closer to six o’clock and she’s further from making a decision than when she began her conversation with the guys. She knows that there has to be something more to choosing a career path than simply the desire to make money: she wants to care about what she does. And I truly love that about Jess and – spoiler – I love that we get an amazing reveal that also focuses on this aspect of Nick’s characterization. We tend to think of Jess and Nick as fundamental opposites: she’s optimistic, he’s pessimistic; she’s outgoing, he’s curmudgeonly. But the fact that both Nick and Jess want to care about their careers and genuinely mean that is significant and perhaps the most important truth that can be drawn between both characters.

Coach then relays his own “origin story,” as it were. It turns out that Coach’s real name is not Coach but Ernie. Schmidt and Nick merely observed how much he coached the players at Winston’s basketball game and the nickname stuck. Jess isn’t sure what she should take away from the tale, but Coach explains: “Don’t over-think it; the call comes from inside the house. Be who you are and do what you do.”

Coach’s advice, while practical in theory, leaves Jess more confused and uncertain than ever. She’s not sure of who she is, but – more than that – Jess knows that there is potential for her to excel at many different things and doesn’t know how to choose between those. Nick wonders aloud whether or not it would benefit Jess for her to think about the first day she ever taught school in order to give her clarity and assurance on a decision. So Jess recounts her first student and how she was able to aid a student who had been bullied, began tutoring him, and watched him become the best math student in the entire school. Reminiscing was Nick’s way of attempting to encourage Jess that she was in the right field and making a difference in the lives of the students.

… Well, until Nick decides to Google that former student and it’s revealed that he is wanted by the FBI for embezzlement. Uh-oh. Jess is more lost than ever, now wondering if she had ever impacted a single student in her life. Nick can see that Jess is struggling with not just her impending decision but with her self-esteem and he does what any great boyfriend would do: he tells her a story to encourage her. Nick’s story begins in law school, where his professor advised that one student in their class would drop out before the following year.

Nick reveals that he hated being around his former law students, but during his second year of school, he hated being around himself. I think that THIS was the most impactful moment for me in Nick’s flashback tale: he was doing well and yet he still hated himself. We tend to think of Nick as a self-loathing guy because of his failures. Because of the fact that he dropped out of law school. Or because of the fact that he works in a bar and lives with roommates and is in his 30s. But the sheer irony is that at his MOST successful (he wasn’t the person who dropped out after his first year), Nick was unhappy with who he was. That really struck me, quite frankly, because Winston’s advice to Jess echoes in Nick’s tale. Nick wasn’t happy with who he was becoming, so he sought a place where he would enjoy the people he was surrounded by.

That place, as it turns out, was the bar. In it, Nick found solace. And though he didn’t love law school, his grades were great and he signed himself up for the California State Bar. But one day, the bartender passed out and Nick stepped up and became a bartender. There’s more to the story, as we will soon discover, but Jess has two minutes to make a life-altering decision and she’s no closer to choosing than she was nineteen minutes earlier. As Cece approaches the bar, Jess looks to her best friend for clarity and advice. Cece corrects a statement that Jess makes, though: Clifton – the man wanted by the FBI – wasn’t Jess’ first student.

It is then that Cece reminds Jess of a story: it’s the story of how she first met her best friend. Cece was in the library, struggling to read a book having spent so much time crying, and struggling even more to understand what she was reading when Jess approached her. The little girls bonded over their eyesight woes before Cece revealed that she just recently lost her father. Nose pressed to the book, Jess tells Cece that she’s always welcome to come to her house and listen to her dad rant and rave about things. This makes Cece feel better momentarily and – uncaring about if someone sees her – Cece presses her nose to the book so that she can read better.

In the present, Cece tells Jess: “I was your first student,” which touches both Jess and the audience. It’s a great reminder that these two have a wonderful, beautiful friendship. And honestly I hope we get to explore their relationship even further as the series continues. Jess’ joy is short-lived, however, when her phone rings and she finally delivers her answer to Candace: she’s turning down the job offer. The gang celebrates Jess making a decision and as Winston, Schmidt, and Coach depart, Jess appears to still be unsettled by her choice in career path. Nick and Cece share a look (isn’t it lovely that these are the two people who know Jess best in the world now?) and Nick attempts to reassure Jess that even though her decision was difficult to make, it was the RIGHT one.

Meanwhile, Nick’s motivation (and his argument with Cece and Jess over whether “A League of Their Own” is classified primarily as a sports movie) is interrupted by Kevin, the drunk and elderly patron from earlier, singing to himself. Nick then pours the elderly man a shot… of tea. As it turns out, Kevin’s sister worries about her brother’s drinking so Nick gets into the bar early and soaks tea in water so that it resembles alcohol and then serves it to the man. I honestly was so impressed by this scene because it’s such a subtle way – again – of showing the audience how MUCH Nick cares for the people he interacts with and how this isn’t just a mindless, dead-end job for him. He cares about bartending and he cares about the people who step foot into the bar. Just like he does with his friends and family, Nick takes care of them.

At school, Jess has managed to make the best of a bad situation. She’s taken charge over her classroom and managed to incorporate all of the other teachers’ subjects into her own curriculum. Principal Foster expresses how pleased he is with Jess for managing to make the best of a bad situation and then informs her that he’s going to tell the important staff and/or board members… how much they can count on him. Jess’ mood could have easily dissolved into disappointment and disheartenment, but instead – as she informs the guys at the bar later that night – she’s using Foster as motivation to accomplish a new goal: if HE can become a principal, why can’t she? And I love this version of Jess, quite frankly. I love how much she cares about her job, but I also love that she never lets seeming defeat get in the way of her dreams and goals. She wants to be in a place where she can make a difference in the lives of those around her (don’t we all?) and so she is constantly optimistic.

Jess’ decision-making process had an impact on Winston, too, as he decided to quit his job. Recognizing the fact that he has never really made any career decisions on his own, he quits his job as a sports radio host (burning every bridge possible as he does so). Unfortunately for Winston, he then cannot decide what he wants to drink at the bar. I feel you, Winston. I can make large-scale decisions, but never small-scale ones. Meanwhile, Cece slides… er, FLINGS Winston’s drink at him because she’s started a job as a bartender. After listening to Jess’ struggle, Cece realized that she could try something besides modeling. And since she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to be, bartending is Nick’s solution.

And as the group celebrates, Nick finishes his story for Jess by removing a piece of paper from his pocket. Jess reads it and is stunned: Nick passed the California State Bar. He explains that he “wanted to prove that [he] dropped out of law school because [he] wanted to be a bartender, not because [he] couldn’t be a lawyer.” And in that moment, the audience and Jess has a newfound respect for Nick: he’s not a slacker who didn’t finish law school because he couldn’t handle its pressures. He’s not a loser or someone who is unmotivated. And now, looking back at all the ways Schmidt (throughout the episode especially) and Winston and Coach and Cece and even Jess used to demean and insult Nick’s job actually pains me. And I think it pains Jess momentarily too, to realize that the man she’s dating IS capable of everything and it’s not all in her head and she’s not projecting her expectations on him and she’s not going to “make him better” or more motivated or successful. The truth of the matter is that Nick could have been a lawyer – he could have had the suits and the cars and the wealth and the prominence, but he CHOSE not to. And that is such an amazing decision made by the writers because it puts the power of the decision in Nick’s hands and it makes him so much more wonderful as a character. I love that Nick chose to do something that made him happy and that he was good at over something that made him miserable but that he was also good at.

The beauty and tragedy is that people often see what they want to see when they look at career choices: they look at having more money as having more happiness and having a higher education or a better degree as more successful. But what Nick’s advice to Jess is at the end of the episode is the advice she needed to hear all along: “I want this. It makes me happy.” Life’s too short to be in a place where you’re miserable. And even though Jess’ job situation is less than ideal, I think that she recognizes the truth in Nick’s words – as she looks around the bar, she IS happy. And perhaps that’s the takeaway lesson from “Clavado En Un Bar”: you may be stuck in a job you don’t like or stuck in circumstances that aren’t ideal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still find happiness.

And I think that’s a message that my twenty-something year old friends and I definitely need to apply to our hearts.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • I knew the episode would be awesome when Schmidt began to describe the scotch.
  •  “Who’s anti-future?” “I don’t know… the Amish, the dying, the television industry, print media, the record industry, railroad industry, karaoke machine owners…”
  • “Well you have found my flabbergast button and guess what? You’ve pressed it.”
  • “… That story contains ZERO decisions.”
  • “Invisible? You were like a three hundred pound wall of peppermint bark.”
  • “What if someone gave baby Winston a flower? Then what would I be?” “BEEKEEPER!” “Hummingbird farmer.”
  • “Yeah, that’s right. We had an ethnic, gay bully.”
  • “Love you in that scarf. Why don’t you wear scarves anymore?” Schmidt’s interjection into Nick’s flashback was the ACTUAL BEST.
  • The girl that they cast to play young Cece IS SO SPOT-ON IT’S ALMOST SCARY.
  • “Yes, of course, all of my quotes are from sports movies.”
  • The tag directly ties into the episode and it’s LOVELY because it focuses on Schmidt walking past a Christmas tree farm and then enters and begins to talk to a man about purchasing a tree. He slips back into Fat Schmidt Christmas Tree Marketer mode and it’s just so wonderful because it reminds us that Fat Schmidt is really there, beneath the surface of this new Schmidt, and that he’s a guy who doesn’t forget where he came from or what has made him into the person he is today.
Thank you all for reading this review! I’ll back next week for my review of “Basketsball.” Until then! :)

Friday, January 3, 2014

5x02 "Introduction to Teaching" (Welcome to Greendale, Mr. Winger)


"Introduction to Teaching"
Original Airdate: January 2, 2014

I had one professor in my entire college career that I really connected with. It was at Palm Beach Atlantic University, a really small school located in West Palm Beach which is probably the nicest place in the world to go to school. My professor, David Athey, was the man who taught me the most about creative writing. I took two classes from him. I was a co-editor of our school’s literary journal. I’ll never forget the moment I knew I was one of Athey’s favorite students: he was going to have to miss class and instead of cancelling it, he asked ME to lead the class. I was delighted because let’s be honest, I love control and organization and I’m Annie Edison. So I sat outside with my Creative Writing for Publication class and led everyone in discussion and critiques. And I was so proud to do it.

David Athey taught me a lot. He was the first person who made me realize that I was truly passionate about writing but also that I could always improve. He reminded me to find my voice and to never stop trying, submitting poetry, and – most importantly – no matter how many rejection letters I received, he always encouraged me to never stop writing. I’ve found few college professors to be as influential as he was in my life, but that’s my personal experience. Every college classmate I’ve spoken to has a David Athey – they have someone who invested in them or impacted them in some way, shape, or form. This notion of what a person can mean to someone else, this relational experience, really, is at the forefront of Community’s second episode “Introduction to Teaching.” In the episode, Jeff reluctantly settles into the role of teacher, but doesn’t want to change his behavior in spite of the new position. Annie, meanwhile, is at her best as she attempts to motivate Jeff into becoming a better person for his students. Elsewhere, Abed sets out to accomplish his goal for the year (becoming better at working with other people) and takes a class on Nicolas Cage with Troy, Shirley, and Britta. But he struggles when he’s asked to categorize Cage as an actor as either good or bad. And he realizes what we could all use a reminder of: people aren’t strictly good or bad. In my New Girl review (a.k.a what I occupied my time with during hiatus) of “The Box,” I explained that Schmidt spent the entirety of the episode asking the wrong question. The question shouldn’t be “am I a good person?” but instead should be: “is what I am DOING good?” And Abed realizes this at the end of the episode, I believe, in regards to Nicolas Cage but also in regards to PEOPLE. People can’t be shoved into neat little boxes with labels on them. The moment you try to label someone definitively is the moment that you drive yourself and them crazy with expectations and limitations.

But before we get too deep into what it means to be a good actor or bad actor or how Jeff and Annie and the newly introduced Professor Buzz Hickey feature into this episode, let’s review the plot of “Introduction to Teaching,” shall we?

5x01 "Repilot" (We're All Story Circles in the End)


"Repilot"
Original Airdate: January 2, 2014

I tell the story of how this blog started every chance that I get.

I like telling it, because looking back on how the blog began gives me perspective, not just on my writing but on life in general. I began writing about Community during its third season. My first blog-review was read probably three times (and two of those were likely by Jaime). And then I wrote my “Geography of Global Conflict” review. Looking back on it, it’s not spectacular. But I was proud of it at the time because it was long and because I had put my heart and soul into analyzing the episode. So I tweeted it to Dan Harmon. And then Dan Harmon replied:



My life, quite literally, has not been the same. Two years, 160 blog posts, and over 75,000 pageviews later, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer. I’ve learned a lot about television and pop culture. I’ve struggled and I’ve encountered writers’ block. And the reason that I tell the story of how this blog began is because it’s impossible to move ahead until you remember where you started. I’ve never taken the fact that Dan Harmon tweeted me lightly, even though to most people, an 140-character message wouldn’t seem that important. But that tweet was. And what resulted from that tweet – the friendships, the writing, the struggles and the triumphs – has taught me about who I am as a person. It’s reminded me that I could have quit this blog a long time ago. That tweet reminds me that sometimes it takes something seemingly insignificant to change your trajectory. It reminds me to take risks because you’re more likely to miss out on something amazing if you don’t.

When I reviewed Community during our first (long and dark) hiatus, I started something called #CommunityRewatch. “Regional Holiday Music” had ended, and I realized that the best way to continue to appreciate my favorite series would be to remember where it started from – to remember where all of these characters had begun their journeys. And what I found when I re-watched the pilot episode was this: all of my beloved characters had grown and evolved throughout the course of three and a half seasons. At their cores, there were still these kernels of truth buried there. They’re truths that Abed notes in “Remedial Chaos Theory.” But what happens over the course of five years is that people change. They grow. They progress or regress and sometimes they do both within the course of twenty minutes. That’s what I took away from the pilot when I re-watched it, really. I recognized Jeff Winger… but barely. In fact, in my review, I noted that he wasn’t necessarily unrecognizable. He was incomplete. In “Regional Holiday Music,” Jeff was a guy who realized that he had a group of people who loved him, who would ALWAYS love him. He cared about those people. But in the pilot? In the pilot Jeff is coming out of a place of loss – he lost his job. He lost his life. He lost his pride and his recognition and his fake Bachelor’s degree. When people act from a place of loss, it’s never very good.

“Repilot” finds Jeff back at the very beginning (which, if you’re a singing nun, is a very good place to start). We find him in nearly the exact same place as we did in the pilot. But there’s a little something different about this Jeff Winger – he’s been changed. Over the course of four years at Greendale, whether he liked it or not, six people changed his entire life. But as we’ll soon discover in “Repilot,” just because you’ve been changed by a person or people or circumstances doesn’t mean you can’t be hurt again. There’s this story circle that Dan Harmon has that I’ve always been fascinated with. The final step of the circle? The character returns to their familiar situation “having changed.” But what happens with a circle is this – it never stops moving. Dan Harmon never constructed a “story line” or a “story mountain” for a reason. He’s a smart guy: he knows that characters don’t move from point A to point B and then stop. He knows that characters (and people for that matter) never stop growing and evolving and changing and screwing up and finding themselves at rock bottom and then being changed. Our lives are circles, not lines or mountains. Whenever we accomplish a task, we move onto the next one. Whenever we hit rock bottom, we find a way to pull ourselves back. We keep moving. We’re all stories in the end. We’re ALL circles.

(But before I get too deep or analytical, let’s talk about the plot of “Repilot,” shall we?)